The Other Russia reports:
The signatories of the petition ‘Putin Must Go,’ which calls for the resignation of Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin, held their first meeting in Moscow on Wednesday. The opposition manifesto, which has gathered more than 43 thousand signatures over the past two months, accuses the prime minister of brutally suppressing dissent, fostering corruption, and failing to modernize and develop Russia over the course of his tenure in power. Therefore, it says, “the return of Russia to the path of democratic development can only begin when Putin has been deprived of all levers of managing the state and society.”
Approximately seventy people attended Wednesday’s event, which was organized by opposition leaders to discuss the history, current state, and future of their campaign against the prime minister. Denis Bilunov, executive director of the opposition movement Solidarity, said the petition was originally intended for social and political organizations to sign, not the general public. However, he said, it turned out that the petition’s message appealed to a far greater number of ordinary Russians than was expected, so a website was set up to collect signatures online. Over 12 thousand people signed the petition in the first week alone.
Bilunov additionally spoke about the technical problems faced by the campaign, including frequent attacks by hackers that have repeatedly disabled the petition’s website. He also said that a full third of the 42 thousand signatories that had been collected by Wednesday have expressed interest in more actively supporting the campaign.
United Civil Front leader and Solidarity bureau member Garry Kasparov spoke at the meeting as well. Given that anti-government opposition groups face a great deal of repression in Russia, Kasparov said that the organizers would have considered even five thousand signatures to have been a success. He spoke about the fact that the petition has been subjected to an information blockade in the media; state-run television channels remain the main source of news for most Russians, and all of them have failed to mention the petition in their reporting. Nevertheless, said Kasparov, the thousands of messages of support and direct connections formed between citizens on the petition’s website make the project worth doing.
“The demographic and biographic cross-section of the signatories shows that there are a great deal more people in Russia who are discontent than they want us to know,” said Kasparov. “We don’t know yet what will come of all this, but 42 thousand people, even by today’s draconian laws, already almost constitutes a political party.”
Prominent political analyst Andrei Piontkovsky pointed out that for all the verbal attacks by the campaign’s critics, not a single person has come forward to speak out in defense of the prime minister or to refute the petition’s accusations.
“This is testimony to the fact that the regime is in a state of decay, insofar as there are no people who believe in any kind of ideology,” Piontkovsky said. “Regimes like this usually end in the collapse of the elite.” The political analyst went on to say that he didn’t believe Russian President Dmitri Medvedev and his political team would be able to successfully rid themselves of the prime minister – only because they fear being left alone with a society that would continue to raise uncomfortable issues with the government.
Piontkovsky also proposed a number of measures to increase awareness of the campaign against Prime Minister Putin, including serious preparations for a rally in Moscow, which he proposed by held in the fall.
“Even three thousand people demanding that Putin be dismissed would be a serious political event,” he said.
Despite the already massive number of signatures on the petition, attendees of the meeting agreed that the campaign needed to move from the internet into the living world to become an effective force for change. Participants proposed a number of measures to that end: increasing awareness that the petition does indeed have a great deal of support from Russian society, involving various political movements in their campaign, using social networking and blogs to spread information, and holding one-man demonstrations – the only form of protest that does not require government sanction to be held legally in Russia – to collect more signatures.
Kasparov noted that there was a limit to how many anti-government protesters the authorities could endure before they became decidedly afraid. “If in Moscow, for example, 100 thousand people come out into the streets, many of the people in that crowd are going to turn out to be the relatives and friends of a lot of police officers and OMON [riot police] officers, so we don’t know if they would carry out their orders” to break up the event, he said. “Through our actions, we are changing the balance of power in society.”
Kasparov said that Prime Minister Putin’s resignation was the campaign’s primary political goal because it would free President Medvedev to implement legislation that would allow for free and fair elections. Currently, politics at every level and in every region of Russia is almost entirely monopolized by United Russia, the Kremlin-backed political party headed by the prime minister himself. What isn’t controlled by United Russia is largely controlled by Kremlin-loyal opposition groups, such as A Just Russia and the Liberal Democratic Party of Russia. The government has done virtually nothing to address the widespread accusations of fraud that consistently come up during major elections.
Since its inception on March 10, 2010, the petition calling for Vladimir Putin to resign has been signed by a wide variety of opposition figures, human rights advocates, public figures, journalists, and other activists. Among the first to sign were prominent rights activists Elena Bonner and Lev Ponomarev, Solidarity bureau members Garry Kasparov, Boris Nemtsov, and Ilya Yashin, Yabloko party members Maksim Reznik, Boris Vishnevsky and Aleksei Melnikov, journalists Yevgeny Ikhlov, Anatoly Baranov and Aleksandr Ryklin, and writers Vladimir Bukovsky and Viktor Shenderovich. At the time of publication, 43,012 people had signed the petition in all.